Determining the set of default search engines
- Start date: 2020-09-D8
- RFC PR: #8437
Determining the set of default search engines based on the user’s home region.
Our configuration of default search engines (list.json) is based on the region and language or locale of the user.
To provide our users with the best choice of search engines and to satisfy the needs of our partnerships, we want to determine (and recognize changes of) the user’s region as accurately as possible.
The scope of this document is limited to the resolving and caching of the user’s region and using it to determine the default search engines.
Problems and constraints
Fast: A search engine needs to be available on application start. The search engine icon is used in the application UI and once the user starts typing we need to be able to provide search suggestions and ultimately perform the search.
Accurate: While the locale can be queried from the system, the actual region can be obscured or just harder to determine accurately.
Change: So far, on mobile, we have been doing only a single region lookup. In reality the region of a user can change over time. Especially when the initial installation happened outside of the “home region” of the user then this user remained in the “wrong” region until the app was reinstalled.
Privacy: Not all sources can be accessed at any time. While GPS may be the most accurate source for the user’s region, it also requires a runtime permission, that we wouldn’t want to ask for on the first app launch.
Determining the region
While there are many available sources for determining the region of the user, we will focus on using the Mozilla Location Service (MLS) as the primary source for now. MLS can determine the region of the user by doing a GeoIP lookup. Additionally it supports determining the location based on Bluetooth, cell tower and WiFI access point data. However so far on mobile we have only been using the GeoIP lookup and have not sent any data to MLS.
Other than previously in Fenix we are not using the locale as a fallback provider for the region. Instead we will fallback to use the default from the configuration (e.g.
The region returned by MLS may be skewed obscured by proxies, VPNs or inaccuracies in the geo IP databases. To accommodate for this, we want to perform additional validation to verify if the provided region is plausible.
The first validator that we want to ship uses the timezone of the user. Similar to the implementation in the desktop version of Firefox (, ) users with a
US region and not a
US timezone will not get
US assigned as current or home region.
Home region and updates
We will use a similar mechanism to track and update the home region of a user as the desktop version of Firefox does.
We will determine between a home region and the current region. Eventually the current region may become the home region of the user. Only the home region will be used for determining the default search engines.
- On the very first app launch we will determine the current region of the user and set it as home region. Until we get a valid response from MLS a user may be on the default search configuration. Since the application usually shows onboarding screens on the first launch, this delay may not be visible to the user.
- On the next app starts we will automatically use the home region. This region is immediately available to the application. Additionally we will query the different providers in the background.
- If the result matches the home region then no further action is needed.
- If the result different than the current region then we save the new value as the current region along with the current timestamp.
- If the result matches the current region and the timestamp of the current region is older than 2 weeks (meaning the current region has not changed in two weeks) then we set the result as the new home region.
With a new home region the user may get a different set of default search engines.
The default search engine of the user will be determined by:
- If the user has not made an active choice: We use the
defaultin the configuration (
list.json) for the home region of the user. When the home region of the uer changes then the default search engine may change too.
- If the user has made an active choice (setting a default in the application’s setting) then this search engine will remain the user’s default search engine - even if this search engine is not in the list of search engines of the (new) home region of the user.
Like for our other components, we want to have a high test coverage for this critical implementation. For the search engine defaults we want to cover some partnership requirements as unit tests to avoid regressions in the affected areas.
We will introduce a new (internal)
RegionManager class that will take care of tracking and updating the current and home region of the user. A
RegionMiddleware will listen to the
InitAction of the
BrowserStore and dispatch an action to add a
RegionState to the
BrowserState, as well as asking the
RegionManager to check whether a region change has happened (by internally querying MLS).
SearchMiddleware (see RFC 2 about the new search architecture) will listen to the
RegionState update, load the matching default search engines using the search storage, and dispatch an action updating the
Rationale and alternatives
- An earlier draft of this RFC described using multiple region sources (GNSS, Network and SIM country, Google Play Services) and weighting them. This requires collecting more real world data about the accuracy of those sources and how they drift from what MLS determines, before shipping an implementation and therefore this idea was discarded here. It may be the topic for a separate, future RFC.
- Timezone check in Firefox desktop
- Update interval in Firefox desktop
- RFC about moving state to new AC component
- Fuzzy location provider idea
- SearchEngineManager in Fennec
- Current SearchEngineManager in Android Components
- FenixSearchEngineProvider in Fenix
- SearchService in Firefox (desktop)
- SearchEngines.swift in Firefox for iOS
What kind of telemetry could or should we collect? What data would help us tweak this? How can we confirm accuracy?
Is the 2 weeks period before switching the home region, that we borrowed from desktop, acceptable for mobile too?
Would it help to expose the current and home region in Fenix in a debug screen or in the “about” screen?